Denise Matthews, the former protege of music legend Prince known by her stage name Vanity died today of kidney failure in Fremont, California. She was 57. As Vanity, Matthews enjoyed some success as a pop singer and as an actress in the 1980s, but converted to evangelical Christianity in the 1990s following a public battle with drug addiction, and abandoned her career in entertainment.
Born in Niagara Falls, Canada and largely raised in the greater Toronto area, Vanity began her career in entertainment as a model, moving to New York City when she was 17. In 1980 she met Prince at the American Music Awards, where he quickly took her under his wing and created – some have said imposed upon on – the sexually charged Vanity persona with which she would make her name. As part of the girl group Vanity 6 she had several hits, most notably the 1982 song “Nasty Girl.” She left the group soon after and was replaced by another Prince-mentored artist, Apollonia, in the now-renamed Apollonia 6. Matthews signed with Motown Records in 1984 and went on to record two solo albums. Matthews also acted, most notably in the cult martial arts film Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, and the 1988 Carl Weathers actioner Action Jackson.
Matthews became addicted to crack cocaine during this period, a problem that eventually led to her overdose and near-fatal renal failure in 1994. Upon recovery she converted to Christianity, quit her entertainment career and renounced the Vanity persona. Her addiction had severely damaged her health, however, and she was forced to undergo a kidney transplant in 1997. Since that time she was devoted entirely to evangelism. She detailed her experiences in her 2010 autobiography Blame It On Vanity.
As news spread, tributes from friends and admirers were expressed on social media.